By Irene Danysh
We’re all from Burien but most of us are originally from other parts of the globe, and so we pay attention to what goes on far beyond us – like in Russia. I’m also from elsewhere, Russia is my “neighbor” in that sense, and from what I’ve seen living in Ukraine lately, it will be a lot less catastrophic for the US if we take Russia seriously now.
How can the US remain prosperous and retain our power as a positive influence for democracy in the world? One way is by paying attention to the fact that Russia – specifically Putin – claims that its real enemy is the US/Europe, has accused the US of “despotism” and “Satanism” according to the New York Times, and has been proclaiming the US as its real enemy consistently for at least the last decade.
This has serious implications for us.
Consider for a moment the cost to you of a Russian victory in the war against Ukraine. Russia is dangerous for the US because while it doesn’t have the economic might of China, it is superb at “winning hearts and minds.” In effect, it is creating baseless and dangerous divisions between democratic nations. No country in the world can hold a candle to Russia when it comes to propaganda – and that makes for a perilous geopolitical threat to us.
How do I know this? Because I’m living in Europe right now – I’ve lived for six years in Ukraine, two in Russia, twelve in Africa, for seven years have been deeply involved with our Latinx community here, and I grew up with parents permanently scarred by the fact that they fled for their lives when Russia invaded their hometowns in Ukraine in 1944.
Is Russia making propaganda inroads in Europe? Absolutely. Hungary’s growing authoritarianism is regularly blocking or threatening to block strong democratic policies of the European Union, Italy’s right-wing government seems to be paying only lip service to some of its democratic commitments and the United Kingdom’s experience of interference from Russia which influenced their exit from the EU has arguably led in part to their serious economic crisis. All of this affects the US negatively.
What I know from the last year living in Ukraine is that, as democracy-loving and patriotic as most Ukrainians are, many in the eastern, occupied parts of the country exposed for decades to Russian propaganda swallow hook, line and sinker the alternative universe they’re fed and don’t understand that Russia – from empire-building monarchy to empire-building communism, to empire-building capitalism – has been peddling them soul-killing lies throughout.
The Russian Federation has a standard modus operandi against its own people – using heavy surveillance on their citizens, making offers one can’t refuse, persecuting those who do not think “properly,” and, when all else fails, using good, old-fashioned arrest and torture. The torture of Russian Federation citizens in Russian jails across its vast territory is well documented and routine.
Geopolitically, who is the US keeping a wary eye on who has a very strong bond with Russia, to our peril? Yes, China. And where are China and Russia making tremendous inroads in the world both economically and politically? On the vast continent of Africa. I am terribly alarmed by the hold Russia is gaining over Africa. Friends and acquaintances in Kenya, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroun, Nigeria, and South Africa know that Russia is a partner their leaders do not want to offend, and that ties with Russia allow them to “stick it” to the US/Europe.
I’m also horrified that cases of abuse and extra-judicial killings of citizens committed by the Russian mercenary army, the Wagner Group, in Central African Republic and Mali, among others, clearly documented by BBC news reports, have not seemed to influence African leaders’ support of Russia. They are ignoring atrocities committed by foreigners on their own soil. Recently Russia bombed Ukrainian grain depots which could have fed millions in Africa in the next several months – that’s something your enemies do to you, not your friends.
Russia has also been making serious propaganda inroads in Latin America, especially since the 2018 World Cup gave it the possibility to mask brainwashing with sports and entertainment “news.”
And a local example – last summer I was leaving a friend’s apartment at one of our complexes here in Burien when we ran into her neighbor, and she proudly introduced me in Spanish as a friend living in Ukraine. His response: “Ukraine?? But look at how the poor Russian people are being brutalized and killed by those evil Ukrainians!” I looked at him in shock and had only one question: “What media are you watching?” Discussion ensued but he could not be convinced that Ukrainians are not monsters. I had no idea Russian propaganda had reached deeply into Latin America.
All in all, what exactly can Russia’s “limited” power do to the US? Actually, it can do – and is doing – plenty. An emboldened Russia, if allowed to take significant territory of a democratically vibrant country, Ukraine, and allowed to drag on this cruel war – cruel to Ukrainians and to Russians – for another year or two, will markedly escalate the number of countries who make our economic and political life and future much worse. In Latin America, Africa and maybe even in Europe, the US will see our power and influence weaken, and disturbing new alliances created with Russia as well as further alignment with China which didn’t exist before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As never before, we need to nip this Russian global attack in the bud.
Yes, I take Russia seriously. As they say in Ukraine, “I’ve seen it on my own skin.”
- Ukraine war: UK criticised for ‘lack of understanding’ of Wagner’s activities in Africa – BBC News
- Putin Announces Ukraine Annexation, Calling West the Enemy – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Russian troops insist they are really ‘at war with USA inside Ukraine’ (nypost.com)
- Russia warns United States: we have the might to put you in your place | Reuters
- Two-Thirds of Russians See US as the Biggest Enemy | Warsaw Institute
Irene Danysh has been based in Burien most of her life, graduated from Highline High School in 1978 and been active in civic engagement in Burien for the past seven years.